My Turn: At the State House and beyond, a call for moderation
In a time of extremism, moderation does not get a lot of respect, yet it is necessary for the effective functioning of democracy. Moderate thinking has benefited our state capitol in the past and is needed today more than ever.
Moderation is a personal characteristic related to reason, balanced judgment and tolerance. It is also a constitutional vision that frowns upon rigidity and embraces innovative solutions and thoughtful compromise to address society’s most pressing needs.
Moderate individuals take their cues from history books and objective data, not philosophy books. That is, a moderate is not inextricably committed to an abstract idea.
Instead, he or she has a deep appreciation for the way people live in this state and the core principles behind that way of life: Hard work. Individualism. An appreciation for the natural landscape. Small, yet highly effective government. Low taxes. Quality education. Good fences making good neighbors.
Moderates realize we have a tradition of healthy conflict in New Hampshire. They try to find an equitable solution among differing opinions, given present circumstances and constraints, while respecting the will of the majority and protecting the interests of the minority.
Here are some examples of issues in 2013 where moderation is needed:
∎ State budget. Discussion should commence with efforts to reach bipartisan agreement on revenue estimates. Look to the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies for objective, nonpartisan economic data. It simply has the best nonpartisan economic policy wonks in town.
∎ University funding. The previous Legislature acted immoderately and cut state funding for the University System of New Hampshire by 49 percent – the largest percentage cut in the country. USNH now receives only 6 percent of its budget from the state, and New Hampshire ranks dead last in the nation in support for public higher education. Making college less affordable works against New Hampshire’s long-term competitiveness and ultimately stifles much needed future economic development opportunities in the Granite State.
The university system’s appeal to lawmakers is straightforward: Restore funding to 2010 levels and USNH will freeze in-state tuition for two years and dramatically increase financial aid, which
will make USNH more affordable for New Hampshire students and families. This is a good deal for New Hampshire. Take it.
∎ State aid to municipalities. Like government bodies everywhere, cities and towns in New Hampshire face tremendous financial pressure from the lingering effects of the recession.
Sources of that strain are clearly understood by local and state lawmakers: the protracted lag in real estate values, a steady reduction in state aid to municipal budgets, and an increase in demand for many public services at the local level as the state itself cuts spending and reduces services. Per capita state aid to cities and towns was down roughly 14 percent from 2007 to 2010.
State legislators must be cognizant of the impact their decisions have for citizens at the local level and take steps to ensure further downshifting to localities does not occur in the next biennium.
∎ Regionalization. It is no longer reasonable to take the default position that every tiny town and small city needs its own police department, fire department, transfer station, business department or SAU office. Private industry would go broke handcuffed to such a proposition.
Exploring regionalization such as multi-town or county assessing districts, cooperative school districts, regional dispatch and multi-jurisdiction police/fire precincts is the way of the future. State lawmakers and local leaders should not give regionalization short shrift. It is commonly used in other areas of the country and must be given serious consideration where feasible in New Hampshire.
∎ Gambling. Two good senators, Republican Chuck Morse of Salem and Democrat Lou D’Allesandro of Manchester, are reaching across the aisle in an attempt to craft a bipartisan bill that would allow a license for a single casino in the state and set up a commission to consider the feasibility of future licenses. Understanding that revenue from a large casino is at least two to three years out if built, this is a discussion worth having and should be given careful consideration by lawmakers to include potential revenue, the timing of that revenue, and social costs associated with expanded gaming.
∎ Gun control. In the wake of the recent shootings in Newtown, Conn., it is clear the time for a widespread conversation surrounding gun control is needed that balances the way of life of responsible gun owners with the need to make gun ownership more difficult for the untrained, the mentally ill and criminals. The NRA acts immoderately and does not add value to the discussion by patently ignoring the need to re-examine gun laws. Existing programs for the mentally ill should also be evaluated as part of this dialogue.
∎ Health of the Great Bay. There is consensus among the communities surrounding the Great Bay Estuary that the Great Bay’s water quality is in decline and excess nutrients are a contributing factor. Communities like Durham have chosen to build on areas of agreement to find common ground and work within the existing regulatory framework to develop a comprehensive watershed management solution.
This approach serves as a potential model for other communities within the Great Bay watershed and beyond.
There are indeed times and circumstances that demand forms of extremism rather than compromise for short duration. Yet, like binge eating or drinking, extremism is not sustainable or healthful for an individual or for New Hampshire over time. Moderation is.
(Todd I. Selig is the Durham town administrator.)